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Fifth-year hurler wants big finish at Science Hill

March 15th, 2007 1:42 am by Dave Ongie

JOHNSON CITY - No hits, no runs and 14 strikeouts - it was just another day at the office for Ashleigh Jackson.

Even her father has lost count of how many no-hitters his daughter has thrown over the course of her high school softball career.

"I'd have to look it up," he said with a shrug.

Either way, Jackson had just finished another masterful pitching performance.

"I've gotten more mature in the circle," the Science Hill senior said. "A lot of it has been mental. I've stepped up my mental game a lot and I've grown up a little bit."

It certainly showed as Jackson displayed total control inside the circle.

She moved the ball inside and out, changed speeds and, when the time was right, she lowered the boom with a devastating fastball, making short work of Daniel Boone's softball team.

Still, Jackson was less than enthusiastic when she walked off the field because she didn't get a hit in the 4-0 victory.

"I'm nervous because it's my senior year," she explained. "There's a lot expected of all of us, a standard that you have to set. "I want to go out of here with a bang and give it all I've got."

The expectations weren't always so high at Science Hill. When Jackson first stepped into the circle to pitch in a varsity game as an eighth grader, the Hilltoppers were perennial bottom-feeders in their conference.

Jackson laughs now when she remembers what it was like facing varsity hitters back then.

"It was crazy," she said. "I was scared to death; those girls were so huge."

But the wide-eyed eighth grader had a rocket arm, and that helped her survive the trial by fire.

In a way, Jackson grew up and improved right along with the program. Science Hill had developed into a dangerous team by the time Jackson was a sophomore, and the Lady Hilltoppers became a force last season, winning both the Big 9 Conference championship and the District 1-AAA tournament title.

Coach Bob Dempsey, who took over the team prior to Jackson's sophomore year, marvels at her development.

"She's gotten mentally tougher on the mound," he said. "She has really matured as a player from her sophomore year to her senior year - it's unbelievable."

Dempsey said Jackson has worked hard on learning what pitches to throw in certain situations, which has helped her become the most feared pitcher in the conference.

"It's hard for people to understand the difference between throwing and pitching," he said. "Last year she got a lot better at pitching instead of just throwing."

Although Jackson has been a fixture at Science Hill for the past five years, she still remembers when it hit her that the end of her high school career was near.

"I ended up signing a scholarship, and it started sinking in that it was my last year," said Jackson, who will play her college ball for Wright State, a Division I school in Dayton, Ohio.

Now the goal is to become a leader along with the other six seniors on the squad.All the pieces seem to be in place for Science Hill to make another run deep into the postseason, but Dempsey said a leader has to emerge and Jackson just may be ready to fill that role.

"She is trying to become the leader and we've got to have a leader," he said. "She's trying to step up - she works hard every day and she gives it her all every day she comes in."

Jackson said she is excited about the possibility of another banner season, but the opportunity to pass down the winning tradition that she has helped build at Science Hill also is on her mind.

"I've been on the team since I was in eighth grade, and now I have a chance to step up and be a leader," Jackson said. "It feels great."

Dempsey hopes that the younger kids on the team take notice of all the hard work Jackson has put into getting better over the years.

"I couldn't ask anything more out of her," he said. "Hopefully they'll follow in her footsteps. I've never seen anybody love the game the way she does."

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